Music Review

Music Review: Various Artists – Playing for Change: Songs Around the World

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We all know music conveys emotions and feelings that words alone cannot adequately convey. We also all know when used this way music can be a very powerful inspirational tool. Unfortunately, in light of recent developments in the music industry, where sales seem to be granted more importance than quality, music has become more of an enjoyment and nothing more.

How many songs from Britney Spears, The Pussycat Dolls or from Lady Gaga are inspirational, rather than catchy?

When I first heard about Playing for Change, the cynical little elf in me scoffed; it was convinced that perhaps this was yet another ploy to get my money by pandering to the good person in me who wants to help (and yes, there is a good person, somewhere in here…).

The first thing you see when you open the packaging is the following quote: “As a human race we come together for birth, we come together for death. What brings us together in between is up to us. Stop and listen to the universal language of music and bring that positive energy with you everywhere you go.” The quote is surrounded by pictures of musicians, singers, audiences, music recording and photography gear, every one beaming and happy. Again, the little elf scoffs: “What good marketing!”

But after I press play, he becomes more hesitant. From the first words spoken and the first notes played, the CD is engaging. The quality of the sound is crystalline; the melody is seamless and flowing, with a mostly upbeat rhythm throughout most of the CD. The first song is a remake of “Stand by Me;” the second is a remake of “One Love,” but the third is an original called “War/No More Trouble” (which quickly becomes my favorite, and not just because it features Bono’s distinctive voice).

What makes the songs on this CD all the more inspiring is that they were put together by over 100 musicians and singers from around the world who had never met each other before. Yes, you read that right – these artists managed to put together an impressive record of songs without knowing who they were working with.

That’s when the little elf actually turned curious. Reading along, we find out that the songs on this CD were put together in the span of four years, during which a small crew traveled, with their filming and recording equipment, through the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Quite literally, they had brought together music and inspiration from the world around, all poured into this little CD case I was holding.

Let me tell you something: when the elf fell off his high cynic’s perch, he had to be taken to the hospital for multiple fractures. And this is a good thing, for we had yet to discover the adjoining DVD!

The Playing for Change CD/DVD set was released on April 28, 2009. It has fared pretty impressively in the five months since then. In the last 20 weeks, it peaked at number 1 on the BillBoard World Music Album Charts where it currently sit at number 3. “The success of Playing for Change illustrates the world’s desire for a truly authentic connection,” stated Concord Music Group co-owner Norman Lear. “Mark and his team brilliantly tapped into the collective undercurrent of change. We’re thrilled to help his beautiful vision become reality.”

Did I mention there was also a DVD of video clips included with the CD? The videos are all on YouTube, where they have been watched almost 20 million time (combined): the video for “War/No More Trouble” has been viewed almost 1,5 million times, the video for “Stand by Me” has been viewed almost 14 million times, and the video for “One Love” has been viewed a little over 2 million times. Check out their YouTube channel for other videos as well as some great interviews:

But wait! That’s not all. A series of concerts were held during the month of March 2009 in Austin, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, and New York City. They were so successful that another series of concerts has been planned in the coming months, which will take the group from Portland to Boston, to Milwaukee, Denver and Santa Fe, as well as in two major cities in Canada (Toronto & Vancouver).

The proceeds from concert ticket sales go towards the Playing for Change Foundation. Many music-related initiatives are supported by the Foundation, including building its first music school in Guguletu, South Africa. And, as the cherry on top of the sundae: Playing for Change was also featured on The Colbert Report in August 2009.

Although the movement itself is worth supporting through the purchase of this CD/DVD, I’m very happy to openly encourage everyone to buy it for the musical content itself. I have been playing the CD while typing out this review, which keeps getting interrupted by daydreams of peace and dancing in the African savanna. I have already purchased it for myself, have gotten it for a dozen of my friends as gift and am planning on getting it for another couple of people as their Christmas present.

And don’t worry about the little elf; he has recuperated beautifully and has joined the Playing for Change movement as a recording technician. If you attend one of the upcoming concerts, please tell him I said hi, and remind him that I need my CD back.

First published here on Blogcritics.

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